The average woman could buy a whole lot of crap with all the money she spends on tampons. Over the course of a lifetime, people with periods spend an estimated $1,773.33 on tampons alone, according to the Huffington Post, along with other menstrual products — adding up to a whopping $18,000.
Though lawmakers are unable to do much to eliminate menstruation (sorry, ladies), a pair of California assembly members are making a bold move to save women more than a few bucks. On Tuesday, the very first day of the legislative session, California assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D) introduced Assembly Bill 1561, a measure that would make tampons, pads and other menstrual products exempt from state sales tax.
Each year, Garcia said, California women pay more than $20 million in taxes on tampons and sanitary napkins, despite making an average of 79 cents on the dollar compared to men.
Garcia and assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang (R), who co-authored the measure, claim the added fee places a burden on anyone with a period, who has no choice but to pay it.
"This is not insignificant to women, especially poor women on a tight budget who struggle to pay for basic necessities like a box of tampons or pads every month for their adult life," Garcia said in a statement. "Women have no choice but to buy these products, so the economic effect is only felt by women, and women of color are particularly hard hit by this tax. You can't just ignore your period."
Other health products, including prescription medication for erectile dysfunction, are already exempt from sales tax in California, while menstrual products continue to be considered a luxury item. According to Garcia and Chang, the discrepancy is just one more example of sexism in society — and a wrong they hope to right.
"Our government is imposing a charge exclusively on women by forcing them to pay extra for the 'privilege' of a health necessity," Chang said. "And for many low-income communities it is difficult to access hygiene products. This form of regulatory discrimination should end."
Tampons are just one expense. If AB 1561 passes, California will become the sixth state to exempt menstrual products from being taxed. That's right: Although several countries (and a few other states) have started to push for menstrual products to be considered basic necessities, 45 states currently require people to pay an added fee just for tampons.
Of course, it's not just tampons. Other feminine hygiene products are subject to what's known as the pink tax: all the added expense that somehow magically works its way into women's receipts. As Mic's Elizabeth Plank previously noted, gendered price gouging "is almost inescapable, affecting everyday products like razors, shampoos and deodorant."
A 2010 report identified up to 50% higher prices on women's personal hygiene products as opposed to men's; more recently, a New York City Department of Consumer Affairs report examined about 800 products and found that products marketed to women cost more 42% of the time, while men's products cost more than the women's versions only 8% of the time.
Price discrepancies and biased taxation force women to spend more on everything from dry cleaning and haircuts to overalls and athletic footwear. While many of these expenses might not actually be for necessary items, the pattern of disparate pricing is a huge drain on women's wallets, not to mention a clear example of persistent gender inequality.
Another example is the fact that so many states consider tampons anything but a necessity, or the way people freak out at the very suggestion they be free. (If only things were the other way around and men were the ones who got their periods, we'd all be surrounded by a great abundance of menstrual products, widely available at no cost whatsoever. What a world that would be!)
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Garcia told Mic that her ultimate goal is to provide tampons to California women at no cost, but the first step is to make them affordable.
"This is a social justice bill, and these issues are all related," Garcia said. "Not only do we pay more for a pink razor versus a blue razor. All of these issues compound daily stressors that we have. It's an extra burden as women."
She added that we shouldn't be surprised, given that "the people traditionally making these decisions, the people in power, are men."
"But we have more women in the legislature now," Garcia said, "so we can have these conversations. We can make some change."
Jan. 15, 2016, 1:08 p.m.: This story has been updated